Monday marks the 126th birth anniversary of V P Menon. Born on September 30, 1893, Menon was the Secretary in the Ministry of States which was established by the Government of India in 1947 to deal with the accession of princely states. While the nation rightly remembers Sardar Patel’s herculean efforts in ensuring that over 500 princely states seamlessly joined the Union of India, few know that it was Menon working in the background, travelling across the country and persuading different Maharajas and Nawabs to accede.
Perhaps Menon’s greatest contribution was coming up with the original policy on accession that required the princely states to accede only in the three matters of defence, external affairs and communications. Since these matters were fairly non-controversial, Menon believed they would be readily accepted by the rulers. In his book Integration of the Indian States, Menon recounts approaching Sardar and pointing out the advantages of this policy: “The basic unity of India would be achieved and, when the new constitution was framed, we could thrash out the necessary details.”
It was Menon’s policy piloted by Sardar Patel that was finally reflected in the Instrument of Accession (IoA) executed by the states becoming a part of the Union of India in 1947 and their seamless integration thereafter.
One of the states to which Menon travelled to secure its accession was Jammu and Kashmir. By October 25, 1947, an attack by Afridi tribesmen had reached the outskirts of Srinagar, forcing the Maharaja of J&K to escape the city and relocate to Jammu. On October 26, the Defence Committee of the Indian Government held a meeting to discuss the viability of a military intervention in J&K. Lord Mountbatten, who was part of this meeting, observed that since J&K had not acceded to either India or Pakistan, it was an independent country. According to Mountbatten, if the Maharaja acceded to India, troops could be sent to rescue the state. Subsequently, it was Menon who immediately flew to Jammu and secured the Maharaja’s signature on the IoA.
Recounting that day in his book, Menon states: “The Maharajah was asleep; he had left Srinagar the previous evening and had been driving all night. I woke him up and told him of what had taken place at the Defence Committee meeting. He was ready to accede at once. Just as I was leaving, he told me that before he went to sleep, he had left instructions with his ADC that, if I came back from Delhi, he was not to be disturbed as it would mean that the Government of India had decided to come to his rescue and he should therefore be allowed to sleep in peace; but that if I failed to return, it meant that everything was lost and, in that case, his ADC was to shoot him in his sleep!” Menon returned to Delhi with the executed IoA which was then accepted by the Government of India.
With accession secured, the next challenge for Menon and his team in the Ministry of States was to ensure complete integration. While this was a legally complex but politically straightforward matter in respect of most princely states, negotiations between representatives of the Government of India and Sheikh Abdullah, the Prime Minister of J&K, in relation to J&K’s status in India failed to produce a mutually acceptable result.
It was thus decided that the Constitution of India would reflect the position under the 1947 IoA. In a letter dated September 29, 1949, Menon writes to Sheikh Abdullah proposing an initial formula for the draft Article 370. He states: “The State of Jammu and Kashmir is an Acceding State and ordinarily the State would have been treated like other Part III States. In view, however, of the special problems arising in connection with this State it seems desirable that the constitutional relationship between the State of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union of India should, however, under the new constitution, approximate, for the present, to that subsisting under the Instrument of Accession, already executed by His Highness the Maharaja.”
The final text of Article 370 introduced in the Constitution of India is based on this understanding. Sheikh Abdullah however had reservations regarding Menon’s letter. He proposed an alternative formulation which simply stated that the Indian Parliament would be entitled to legislate only on defence, external affairs and communications. Seemingly making light of Abdullah’s objection, in an internal correspondence between Vishnu Sahay, Secretary, Kashmir Affairs to V Shankar, PS to Sardar Patel, Menon asked that the following be conveyed to Shankar (and presumably Patel):
“Parts II (citizenship), III (fundamental rights) and IV (directive principles) of the Constitution would apply automatically to Kashmir unless the position is expressly saved… What is worrying Sheikh Abdullah and the Working Committee of the National Conference is that if these general provisions become applicable to Kashmir also, their legislation against other citizens of India in respect of acquisition etc. of property will become invalid. The Kashmiris are perhaps worried about the occupation of their country by the Punjabees!!”
Thus overriding the Sheikh’s objections, but in deference to his principled disagreement, the Ministry of States sent a draft proclamation to the Yuvraj of Kashmir, Karan Singh, for signing. This was the final step towards complete integration in the Union of India by which all princely states that had acceded to India were required to accept the Constitution of India as their own through a public proclamation. It is significant to note that J&K’s proclamation was worded differently from the others. This proclamation, issued on November 25, 1949, did not accept the Constitution of India as J&K’s own. Instead, it stated that the Constitution of India, “in so far as it is applicable to [J&K]” would “govern the constitutional relationship between [J&K and the] Union of India”. This was a reference to Article 370 of the Constitution of India. The rest, as they say, is history.
Arghya Sengupta is Research Director, and Jinaly Dani is Research Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.